Croatia is a land of many influences, on previous visits I’ve been overwhelmed by its similarities to Greece and Spain but the Istrian region, due to history and location has a strong Italian feel. Inland is reminiscent of Tuscany in days-gone-by; fertile rolling hills, olive groves, vineyards and ancient hillside towns bathed in misty, yellow sunlight.
Fringing Istria’s coastline lies the elegant town of Rovinj, where pastel-painted houses, shops and galleries line the maze of narrow, cobbled streets that climb up to the town’s Venetian bell tower. With a striking mix of Renaissance and baroque architecture, it is steeped in history and culture. The harbour remains an active fishing port; traditional fishing boats share the sea with a collection of luxury yachts destined to experience the regions’ delicious cuisine, renowned wines and craggy shores.
Every region has a distinct cuisine using local ingredients and traditions; inland hearty meat dishes are popular but on the coast seafood reigns supreme. Istria is arguably the country’s gastronomic heartland; scattered with upmarket restaurants serving refined, creative and beautifully presented dishes.
Istria is also home to some of the best truffles in the world. In 2000, Istrian restaurant Zigante won the Guinness World Record for the world’s biggest white truffle. A bronze cast of it sits proudly in the restaurant entrance; unsurprisingly the menu is based around the fungal theme. During my five-course lunch there my winning dishes were the delicious ravioli filled with shrimp tails accompanied by white truffle sauce and the unlikely concoction of pear and black truffle ice-cream (lunch approx £76 with wine).
The Monte Mulini Hotel also has two superb restaurants, the Wine Vault is the gem in its crown offering 550 fine wines alongside sophisticated French cuisine (dinner approx £64 with wine). With an impressive wine cellar and an award-winning sommelier it’s the perfect place for a wine orientated gastronomic experience. After dinner head into town to a sophisticated, waterfront cocktail bar to watch the sunset.
The Monti Mulini is Rovinj’s first five-star hotel; its dramatic location on the Golden Cape promises stunning views of the dense pine forests, crystal blue waters and stunning sunsets. The exquisite pool area, decadent bedrooms and private sea-view balconies ensure an exclusive, boutique experience. The alfresco champagne breakfast overlooking the ocean offers the perfect start to the day. The hotel also boasts a state-of –the-art spa. For the ‘signature stone massage’ (approx £70) you get drenched in a luxurious oil before being massaged with cold stones creating a cool, melting feeling, easing away tension.
Out & About:
For history lovers, a visit to Pula (30 mins drive) should be on the agenda, built on Roman ruins, it’s home to a spectacular 2,000-year-old amphitheatre which is now used to stage dramatic concerts and events.
Guests at the Monti Mulini Hotel should take advantage of the free bike hire and venture into the fragrant pine forest for a relaxing cycle to a secluded pebbly bay to watch the sunset. The hotel can also arrange truffle hunting, and wine tasting trips. There are also regular ferries from the Rovinj harbour to Venice.
Who Goes There?:
The hotels main clientele seems to be affluent Dutch, Italians and English visitors. Fantastic facilities also attract upmarket Croats looking to enjoy delicious food and fine wine.
The Best Thing:
The area is so peaceful and effortlessly classy. It’s the ultimate place to unwind in absolute luxury amid breathtaking surroundings.
The Worst Thing:
With an area with so much to offer I think that car hire is a must if you want to make the most of your trip.
The Croatian currency is Kuna.
Fly from London Stanstead to Pula with Ryan Air, check http://www.ryanair.com for details. Stay at the Monti Mulini Hotel in Rovinj, just 30 minutes from Pula. Rooms from approximately £210 per night, including breakfast; www.montemulinihotel.com